Build, promote, and publicize a website that delights its target audience. Everything else will fall into place.
This is the secret to good search-engine optimization for 2015 – but, frankly, it should always have been the best practice in the first place. Google is beholden to Internet users. The moment that web surfers no longer think that the search-engine giant delivers quality search results is the time that Google will follow the path of AltaVista and die.
As far as we can know, nothing is arbitrary about the components of Google’s algorithm. Every ranking factor is there for a reason because, as Alan Bleiweiss correctly put it at Pubcon last month, “SEO is Google’s algorithmic attempt to emulate user experience.”
Delight the user, and the increased rankings and traffic will come as mere by-products. Here are the three things to keep in mind.
Building a Website that Delights
The first step of the typical SEO process is auditing and optimizing a website on a technical level. Most templates of SEO audits contain a checklist of (things that we presume to be) ranking factors and then go through a website and check off the list. But why are we really doing this? It’s not really to satisfy Google – it’s to satisfy visitors.
Moz cofounder Rand Fishkin once wrote about this idea and called it “the pogo-stick problem.” Essentially, if someone conducts a search, clicks on a website, and then clicks the browser’s “back button” to return to the search results, then that is an unhappy person. And that is Google’s worst-case scenario.
Why would someone return to the search results? Here are just a couple of reasons:
- The website loaded too slowly
- The person was on a mobile device, and the site does not display well on them
- The content did not answer the search query to the person’s satisfaction
- Your content was not authoritative
- Your website did not look professional or credible
- Your website has too many advertisements
Google’s algorithm, as best as we can know, contains factors that address each of these issues – and more – simply because the search engine wants users to be happy. Users do not want a slow-loading website. When users visit websites on smartphones, they do not want to see sites that are impossible to read on those devices. Users do not want to be overloaded with ads. And so on.
In the end, the common “SEO functions” of cutting load time, creating quality content, optimizing for mobile, and more are not really done to increase search-engine rankings directly. These actions are really taken to create the best online experience for visitors. Higher search-engine rankings and traffic are just by-products.
Promoting a Website that Delights
People tend to visit websites because they want something – if you can be the best site on the Internet at delivering that “something,” then your visitors will love your website so much that they will promote it themselves on social media and by linking to you directly without any involvement on your part.
Here’s an example. Say that you are a mobile-monetization platform that helps people to make money from their mobile apps and games. What can your website give that will delight mobile developers? Here are just two examples:
- An online forum or similar community where mobile developers can talk among themselves, give and get advice, and make friends
- Content that would interest mobile developers – and be amazing enough to inspire them to share it – such as comprehensive guides on these topics:
- How to Create a Mobile App
- How to Monetize a Mobile App
- Learn How to Code for Mobile Apps
- What Mobile Apps Are Popular in Various Industries
- What Do People Want in Mobile Apps?
- How Much Money to Different Mobile Games Make?
- What Types of Mobile Games Are Most Popular
All of this content can be found in search engines and otherwise publicized (more on that below) – and it will place all of the readers in the Awareness stage of the marketing funnel as long as you use conversion paths correctly. (For an extensive discussion of the types of content that can be used in the later Evaluation and Purchase stages of the funnel, I’ll refer you to this article at Hubspot.)
Publicizing a Website that Delights
Still, it takes time for inbound marketing to work. Contrary to the promises of too many unscrupulous marketers and SEOs, it is extremely rare for anything to “go viral” or “rank first in Google” quickly. This is why outbound marketing – another phrase for publicity and public relations – is still necessary. As I explained in a webinar for Moz, inbound marketing fulfills demand while outbound marketing creates demand. Both are needed.
At SMX West earlier this year, I gave a presentation that introduced the principles of public relations to digital marketers. Here are the steps of the PR process in the context of gaining coverage (and earning the best links):
- Goal Identification
- Target Audience Identification
- Messaging and Positioning
- Media List Creation
- Pitch and Press Release Creation
- Execution and Follow-Up
Links are not something you “get.” The best links come naturally as a result of good marketing and PR. (For example, Google’s purported bias towards big brands in organic search is simply a result of the marketing, advertising, and PR departments of those brands generating publicity, discussion, and thereby countless links that are 100% natural.) Publicity and public relations need to be used to promote both your company and the content on your website.
What Does it All Mean?
If your SEO strategy changes every time that Google updates its algorithm, you’re doing it wrong. The only way that so-called “SEO” will succeed in the long term is to stop doing what is called “chasing the algorithm.” You’ll never beat it – Google is smarter than you will ever be.
In fact, as Fishkin once tweeted, “the more advanced Google becomes, the more SEO feels like a bonus for getting marketing and web development right.” What we call “SEO” today is indeed just doing both web development and marketing well. It’s why I’ve argued that there’s no such thing as “online marketing” – it’s all just “marketing,” and the Internet is merely just a new set of communications channels in terms of overall marcom theory.
Build and market a great website that delights your target audience, and the higher Google rankings and traffic will come as by-products. Focus on the road, not the destination — and you’ll get there naturally. Think like marketers, not SEOs.